There are a lot of reasons not to invest in training for gig workers. For one thing, mandatory training for contract workers is illegal in the U.S., but there's a lot more to this story, so let's dig into it.
Most companies in the sharing economy rely on independent contractors to provide their services — these workers sign up to do a job without becoming employees. That means companies don’t have to pay benefits, but that also means they can’t make their employees do certain things, like take training.
There’s the fact that creating good training costs money. If you’re going to invest in training, you obviously want your workers to participate in your courses or modules. Why invest in learning and development at all if there's no guarantee that your trainees will spend any time on the learning you created?
Those two points might seem like a solid argument against bothering with training, but you should do it anyway. Even if you can’t require your workers to take the training you provide, having sound training modules on hand is important. Learning is important for your brand, your customer experience, and — most importantly — your contractors are hungry for it.
Four reasons to invest in training gig workers:
1. Learning corrects issues before they start.
We’ve all heard gig economy horror stories. Delivery drivers who hurl packages down the driveway like bowling balls rather than walk them to the front step. Uncommunicative personal shoppers. Drivers that accept and then cancel rides.
Some gig economy companies require training as remediation. For example, if an Uber driver’s rating drops below 4.6 stars they can be suspended until they take a four-hour basic driver training course. (That course is provided by an outside company and drivers are required to pay out of pocket for it.)
Training can help you get out in front of some of those issues. For example, a new shopper without training might get a low rating because she didn’t understand how much she needs to communicate with the customer when she’s at the store for them. But if she’d chosen to take training, she’d have a better understanding of how long it should take to shop her order, and how much communication is the right amount. By the same token, a driver for a ridesharing company might cancel a ride because it’s too short, but training can help that driver understand that accepting and canceling a ride makes the company look bad. (No matter how much training you offer, probably not much hope for a parcel-flinging delivery driver, however.)
2. Learning helps provide a consistent experience across your brand.
When it comes to your contractors, there’s more to brand consistency than making sure they’re all wearing a yellow safety vest or carrying a branded shopping tote. You want them to have the same approach to customer service as well. They are, after all, the face of your brand.
While independent contractors are legally free from what the Internal Revenue Service calls “behavioral control,” (that means that employers can’t tell them how to do their jobs), you still need to provide your customers with a consistent brand experience. After all, the customer chose to do business with you and they expect you to follow through with your brand promise.
A good way to do this is offer voluntary training offering guidance on customer experience and professionalism. That way, no matter which of your workers assembles their furniture or gives them a ride, your customers will have a consistent brand experience.
3. Gig workers often seek training.
Think workers won’t take the training you provide for them? That’s not the case. Take Uber and Lyft, for example. Several third-party companies have moved into the void where driver training could be, offering both paid and free training materials.
Uber does offer some resources for drivers — there are onboarding tutorials that walk them through the driver app and remedial training, as I mentioned earlier. Those training materials don’t always meet the needs of drivers, who want information about more complex problems — like how to deal with drunk passengers, for example.
A number of third parties have stepped into this training vacuum: ride-sharing blogs offer information for free, drivers have posted “training modules” on YouTube, and some entrepreneurs offer paid courses for drivers. It’s the same across the board. Google any sharing economy company and the word “training” and you’ll find a variety of training materials, free and paid, from various third parties.
There’s nothing wrong with the abundance of training available online for workers who want to learn. A lot of it is created by people who have worked as gig workers themselves. But there is some risk involved in not offering your own training materials — as the company, you have access to the most up-to-date and accurate information. And while some of the online training is created by responsible people who just want to help out their fellow gig workers, anyone can post a video to YouTube.
It comes down to this: do you want your workers getting information from you or from someone they found online because you don’t offer the training they need?
There are a number of independent and third-party training programs and guides available for gig economy companies online. Do you want your workers getting their information from those sources, or from you?
4. You’ll find out who your most engaged workers are.
While not every gig worker is going to take the training you have on offer, the ones that do are highly motivated. They’re trying to make a steady income out of gig work, so it’s in their interest to put in a lot of unpaid time taking courses and devouring every piece of information they can find that will make them better at their jobs.
For example, one Uber driver was quoted as saying he spends between two and four hours a week reading blogs and forums about ridesharing. The same article states that hundreds of drivers signed up for a paid course run by a ridesharing blog.
The workers who are doing this research are invested in your company. They’re likely the ones who are providing good customer service and working for you frequently. If you don’t currently offer training on your own learning platform, there’s no way for you to know who is spending the time on training and trying to improve as a worker.